Background: The cranial sensory ganglia represent populations of neurons with distinct functions, or sensory modalities. The production of individual ganglia from distinct neurogenic placodes with different developmental pathways provides a powerful model to investigate the acquisition of specific sensory modalities. To date there is a limited range of gene markers available to examine the molecular pathways underlying this process.
Results: Transcriptional profiles were generated for populations of differentiated neurons purified from distinct cranial sensory ganglia using microdissection in embryonic chicken followed by FAC-sorting and RNAseq. Whole transcriptome analysis confirmed the division into somato- versus viscerosensory neurons, with additional evidence for subdivision of the somatic class into general and special somatosensory neurons. Cross-comparison of distinct ganglia transcriptomes identified a total of 134 markers, 113 of which are novel, which can be used to distinguish trigeminal, vestibulo-acoustic and epibranchial neuronal populations. In situ hybridisation analysis provided validation for 20/26 tested markers, and showed related expression in the target region of the hindbrain in many cases.
Conclusions: One hundred thirty-four high-confidence markers have been identified for placode-derived cranial sensory ganglia which can now be used to address the acquisition of specific cranial sensory modalities.